A Better Way to Disinfect Sewer Equipment

Cleaning system for sewer equipment helps prevent spread of bacteria, viruses.
A Better Way to Disinfect Sewer Equipment
The Vanguard System can be set up with a spray collar design or roller frame (shown here) that sits over the manhole.

Disinfecting the jetter hose as it is being retracted from the sewer will prevent raw sewage and all the viruses and bacteria it contains from contaminating the outside environment. 

It’s a simple concept. But in more than 25 years in the wastewater business — whether it was cleaning sewer lines or overseeing jobs — TJ Suiter says it is a concept he didn’t often see practiced. 

“I noticed there is really nothing out there that is removing all the biohazards that are coming out of the sanitary sewer system at the source,” says Suiter, owner of Colorado-based Hydro Products. "As workers are launching or retrieving the jet hose from the reel, they are exposed to raw sewage. Then they’re transferring all those viruses and bacteria that are on their gloves to other parts of the equipment: the vacuum or jet controls, their personal cellphone or drinks they might have if they’re out there on a hot summer day.” 

That’s why three years ago, Suiter invented the Vanguard System, designed specifically to keep sewage and its associated pathogens where they belong — the sewer.

How it Works
The Vanguard System can be set up with a roller frame that sits over the manhole, or with the new spray collar design. Each contains four high-pressure sprayers connected to the truck’s water tank and a 5-gallon tank holding an antibacterial cleaning concentrate. The system is operated by a control box that combines water from the truck’s tank with the cleaning solution. The amount of cleaning solution per gallon of water can also be adjusted via the control box. 

“As the hose is being retrieved out of the sewer, it is being sprayed at that source, so all the bacteria and viruses are going right back into the sewer,” Suiter says. “When you open a manhole, you’ll usually see several different lines coming in and every time you’re going to clean a different line you have to grab that hose to steer it into the correct line. Since that hose was just in the sewer, with all those viruses and bacteria, all that gets on your gloves. 

“With the Vanguard System, it’s coming out and getting washed off as it’s being spooled up. Now you’re able to touch a clean hose as you guide it into the next line. And you’re also hitting balls of tree roots or any number of things that will stop the hose’s progress jetting the line. So you’ll have to grab that hose numerous times during the run and help it along.” 

The system also includes a hand gun attachment that can be used to disinfect the surrounding area or other equipment that comes into contact with sewage. 

“The spray gun is there because there is a lot more that goes into the sanitary sewer than just the jetting hose,” Suiter says. “You can wash down the vacuum tubes, cameras, the nozzles, your gloves, boots, tools, toolboxes, etc.”

98 percent
Suiter sold his first three units of the Vanguard System about three years ago to the City of Colorado Springs. He immediately received positive feedback, but the city also wanted quantifiable data that showed the effectiveness of the Vanguard System. A Denver-area independent laboratory was hired to follow Colorado Springs crews for a day swabbing equipment the system was used on. After three weeks of culture growth, the lab had some data: The system reduced bacterial counts by up to 98 percent. Colorado Springs ordered 11 more units to outfit the rest of its fleet. 

Suiter says that level of equipment disinfection is especially important in today’s world where wastewater workers are at greater risk of contracting an illness because of their work environment.

“Viruses and bacteria are getting stronger; they’re not getting weaker,” Suiter says. “And there are fewer effective antibiotics out there. All the low-hanging antibiotic fruit is gone, so it’s getting extremely expensive and very time consuming to come up with new antibiotics that will treat infections. 

“The people who work on these maintenance trucks sometimes feel like they’re bullet-proof,” he adds. “Well, they’re not. Viruses don’t have any respect for people.”

The Genesis
A period of volunteering at a hospice with terminally ill patients is where the concept of the Vanguard System first began to develop for Suiter. He observed hospice workers flushing the contents of bedpans down the toilet, untreated. 

“And those same workers were wearing all this high-tech safety gear and actually incinerating it, including gloves, gowns and even the sheets and clothing from those patients. But the workers outside the hospice were not being protected at all.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not currently recommend disinfection of patient waste before disposal into the sewer system, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have any registered disinfectants that can be used for that purpose. 

“Their position is basically, we don’t recommend anything to kill pathogens in wastewater. It will be taken care of at the treatment plant,” Suiter says. “That’s all well and good if you’re working with that water coming directly out of the wastewater treatment plant where all this raw sewage has been cleaned up. But the people we’re trying to protect are the ones between the hospital and the treatment plant.”

Cost-Savings Benefits
The Vanguard System is modular so it can be installed on a new truck or retrofit on any existing truck for approximately $6,000. 

“When you consider that the average hospital stay is several thousand dollars a day, it’s a pretty inexpensive investment to protect your workers,” Suiter says. 

He recalls one of his contacts in Texas recently had a worker diagnosed with hepatitis. It led to a five-week hospital stay. 

“The wastewater manager there said, ‘You know, for the cost of this one individual being sick, we could’ve outfitted the entire fleet and been money ahead.’ From just that single incident. 

“Especially in light of the recent Ebola scare in the U.S., I think it’s important that workers are able to actually wash down that area where a hose is coming out,” Suiter adds. “This is a very rapidly evolving problem and there’s really not an end in sight, so I think it’s best to be on the front end of this thing rather than the back. The best defense is always good offense.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.